Christopher Mark- Your biggest business development issues.


Kevin Price, Host of the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Christopher Mark. Here’s that interview.

About the interviewee

I am Christopher Mark, General Manager.

I actually have no education in mining – I am a political science major from the University of British Columbia (luckily others in our company have lots of experience).  I got into the industry initially via summer grunt work, then ended up learning the computer systems.  These are programs that cost tens of thousands of dollars and are NOT user friendly.

From there, I started handling more of our business and am now the General Manager.  That means managing projects, collections, marketing, you name it.  This runs the gamut from designing our website to currently analyzing our job estimate-cost structure.

A side hobby is writing and holding workshops about higher education and flaws with the system and what students should do about it.

Tell me about your firm (number of employees, location, type of companies you work with, etc.). 

We are a resource exploration company that helps companies find information about what is underground.  This usually means looking for gold and other minerals but can also mean finding bedrock for building projects and other structures.  We use geophysics, geochemical, and geological tools – including blowing things up with dynamite (which is always fun – and dangerous).

We’ve been in business for over 45 and our office is in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.  While most of our work is in Canada, we work in the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Papa New Guinea and others.  We were recently going to do work in India but became too concerned about corruption affecting our job.

We are technically a tiny company – the two permanent employees are David (my father and CEO) and myself.  That is because we hire all our other workers as contract employees. The industry here is cyclical much like tourism, so we’ll have up to 20 further employees in the summer.

Aside from our clients we work with drilling companies, the government, public utilities, and private individuals, never mind all the companies we contract out work to ourselves – scientific, transportation (primarily helicopter and plane), and equipment companies.

What type and size of companies do you have as clients?

Our clients are fairly varied, although mostly confined to the mining sector.

Some of our clients are private individuals and companies interested in various elements of construction – from finding buried water tanks to the depth of bedrock.

We also have done lots of work for the provincial public power company BC Hydro.

Most of our clients though are “junior” mining companies.  They are looking to find and develop resources (primarily hoping to develop mines) which, given the rapidly increasing cost of bringing mines to production, likely means they will be acquired later by international mining companies (who are also our clients).

These companies are typically small, usually from 2 to 30 employees, and are primarily concerned with raising the money to continue exploration on their properties.  Thus their activities center around promotion and funding, with accounting and attorney appendages to keep the government off their backs.

What comes to mind when you see this topic?

The challenges of a small company in an industry so affected by uncontrollable market forces. Even weekly movements in the price of resources, primarily gold, can significantly affect a project and the ability of our clients to raise capital and pay us.

Ensuring steady, reliable revenues has been a major impediment to developing our business. We’ve made past mistakes and have had success in correcting them.

For us, our current focus in terms of business development is collecting on owed revenues to fuel growing our marketing budget.  We’ve for years relied on word of mouth “advertising” (which works well in an “old school” industry like mining) but we are seeking to change our ideal client which means altering our marketing approach.

This means changing our company’s direction significantly.

What are the best practices when it comes to this issue?

Best practices are UNQUESTIONABLY maintaining a serious, effective marketing plan with a serious budget.  Our major mistake was letting our marketing spending slide in good times because we were able to draw in so much word of mouth clients.

This is often a big mistake for companies who have success in one or two marketing channels.  They become addicted to these channels and then when those channels are disrupted their business is in serious trouble.  This certainly happened to us. Companies reliant on specific SEO strategies are a great example of this – Google makes one major update and their entire business can be destroyed.  Or companies reliant on Facebook advertising can be ruined by a user complaint that results in their banning from that platform.

Now, as we seek to grow our company what’s slowed us down a little is having to test and verify our marketing budget.  That is to say we’ve had to play and experiment with how we’re using our marketing before fulfilling to steps to expand our business.

This is an example of a second best practice we’ve no implemented – be prepared for the upturn during the downturn.  Unlike all the other companies ACTING like they are in a slump, make strategic decisions as if there is no downturn.  This is a key change we have made.

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